The object of this essay is to explain the origins of the concept of community. Also, how the major changes in social life, particularly following the industrial revolution, prompted Philosophers, Sociologists, and Anthropologists to reach a greater understanding of the behavioural patterns of the people of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. An explanation of the development of Sociologist’s typologies will be provided, together with a description of Ferdinand Tonnies’ Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft typology. A definition of the word community will be explored and examples of its use will be provided.

Furthermore, examples of exclusive communities will be discussed, with particular reference to the ethnic minority and white communities of Bradford, Burnley and Oldham. Details of the violent community disorders which occurred within these areas during the early summer of 2001 will be presented. Information on the investigations and reports which followed these occurrences will be provided, together with details of the themes, proposals and recommendations put forward by the various bodies involved in encouraging communities to be more inclusive.

Sociologists have been interested in the concept of community since the discipline of sociology was established in the 1830’s.[1] Auguste Comte (1798-1857), a French philosopher, first used the term ‘Sociology’ when he wished to establish a ‘science of society’ that would help reveal the social laws, which he believed controlled development and change. [1] From the nineteenth century onwards, people developed a greater awareness of the need to understand the consequences of changes in society, particularly the major changes in social life as a result of political revolutions and the Industrial Revolution. [1]

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The Industrial Revolution created the social framework of modern society, which can be summarised by three main factors: the massive population explosion, although mainly due to the decline in the death rate, the huge development of factory oriented manufacturing and the establishment of mills, foundries and mines, and the rapid growth of urban settlement.[7]

As an example of the huge development of working opportunities for men, women and children, in Manchester in 1782 there were only two mills, however, by the end of the century there were fifty-two mills, twenty-four iron foundries and thirty-seven machine workshops.[7]

In the first half of the nineteenth century the migration of labour more than doubled, trebled or quadrupled the populations of many towns and cities. Manchester’s population during this period rose from 90,000 to 400,000. [7]

In an attempt to understand the dramatic changes in behavioural patterns of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some of the early social thinkers developed ideal type, or model societies. These ideal types highlight distinctive features and reflect the basic ‘idea’ of what is being described. These typologies have been used as analytical tools and have enabled comparisons over time to be distinguished. For example, the German sociologist and political scientist, Ferdinand Tonnies (1855 – 1936), who was a major contributor to theory and field studies in sociology, established a contrasting sociological distinction between two types of social groups.[3] However, Tonnies believed that characteristics from both types could exist within any one of the types. He made his distinctions between an older form of spontaneous community, based on mutual aid and trust, and a modern kind of society in which self-interest predominates.[4]

Firstly, he used an ideal type based on Gemeinschaft, a German word which translates as ‘Community’. Tonnies describes pre-industrial societies and rural villages as Gemeinschaft society types. These societies he viewed as being bound by intimate ties and mutually dependent. Bonds being based on kinship, and a close knit society in which members know each other and in which relationships were based upon face to face encounters. In addition there was a sense of togetherness and group solidarity. He summarises typical Gemeinschaft characteristics as follows :[1][5][6]

* Intimate

* Enduring

* Personal

* Based on ascribed status

* Based in a homogeneous culture

* Enforced by moral custodians (e.g. Church, family)

* Upheld by traditional values

Secondly, and in contrast to Gemeinschaft, Tonnies used an ideal type based on Gesellschaft, a German word which translates as ‘Society – Association’. Tonnies describes large scale and complex industrial societies as Gesellschaft society types. These societies he viewed as being social organisations in which people had weak social ties and in which their relationships were based on need and considerable self interest. These relationships were usually temporary and impersonal. He summarises typical Gesellschaft characteristics as follows :[1][5][6]

* Few important primary relationships

* Contractual and calculative

* Impersonal

* Based on achieved status

* Based in heterogeneous culture

* There is no widely agreed source of moral values

* There are no sustaining traditional values

Tonnies viewed that a shift from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft was as a result of industrialisation, urbanisation, and the growth of capitalism and the subsequent development of modern urban societies.

For sociologists the term ‘Community’ has always proved difficult to define and there has been little agreement between definitions. In 1955 George Hillery listed ninety-four definitions of community that he had discovered in social science literature. He concluded that the only common element was the fact that they all referred to people.[2] However, although there has been little agreement on the definition of community, sociologists usually agree that there are three key themes to community:[6][14]

1. As a social system (a set of social relationships or patterns and networks of social interaction)

2. As a fixed locality (a geographical area)

3. As a quality of relationship (the spirit of community or solidarity)

Social Anthropologist Anthony Cohen believes that the word community establishes a symbolic boundary around people and that a difference of being inside or outside a community is being marked. He further suggests that the word is loosely used to imply that a community is a group or category of people, who have something in common with each other, or are similar to each other, which distinguishes them in a significant way from other groups. Cohen therefore argues that community implies both similarity and difference.[8] He also suggests that boundary marking processes can be used to define communities in terms of identity, belonging and exclusion.[9]

There are many kinds of communities, for example, the word community can be applied to places, social groups, politics, ethnic groups or groups of differing sexual orientation. The following are a few examples:

Community Centre Student Community

European Community Community Charge

Community Care Muslim Community

Religious Community Jewish Community

White Community Black Community

Asian Community Gay Community

Each of the above communities are exclusive in that not every person can take part or belong, therefore community always involves a relationship between insiders and outsiders.[6]

Social exclusion may result from association, or lack of association, with groups and places in society. These can include: families and friends, neighbours and the neighbourhood, the workplace, race, age, gender, culture, religion, language, accent, class, appearance, sexuality, lifestyle and ability or disability. In addition, educational attainment, employment status or economic status can contribute to social exclusion.

Exclusive communities such as ethnic minorities, Asian and Black communities have received a great deal of attention by the British Government recently following the number of disturbances in towns and cities in England during the early summer of 2001. The violent community disorders which erupted in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham have been reported as being some of the worst in twenty years. These disorders involved hundreds of young people, predominantly between seventeen and twenty-six, and in which over four hundred police officials and sixty-five members of the public were injured. The disorders also caused millions of pounds worth of damage to these areas. Three hundred and ninety five people were arrested in connection with the disorders of Bradford, Burnley and Oldham. Further details as below:[11]

Factual evidence on disorders obtained from local police forces: Greater Manchester Police, West Yorkshire Police, Lancashire Constabulary, 2001.[11]

These disturbances involved large numbers of people from different cultural backgrounds and in the areas of Burnley and Oldham, local enquires were established in order that circumstances contributing to the disturbances within these communities could be investigated. The British Government also set up a Ministerial Group on Public Order and Community Cohesion to investigate how national policies might be used to promote improved community cohesion. This ministerial group produced the report ‘Building Cohesive Communities’. In addition, an independent Community Cohesion Review Team was established in order to determine the causes of the disturbances and what possible solutions might be found to improve community cohesion and avoid future difficulties.[10]

The term ‘Community Cohesion’ has become increasingly popular in public policy debates. The term is closely linked to other concepts such as inclusion and exclusion, social capital and differentiation, community and neighbourhood.[10] In a report entitled Social Cohesion, Social Capital and the Neighbourhood by Ray Forrest and Ade Kearns it is stated that “the simplest observable measure of community cohesion would be of groups who live in a local area getting together to promote or defend some common local interest”.[13]

The ‘Building Cohesive Communities Report’ recognises that within many of the areas affected by disorder or community tension, there was little communication or interaction between members of the different racial, cultural or religious communities.[11] However, whilst each of the outbreaks of disturbance within these areas may have been triggered by different events, the report highlights a number of features that each area shared. For example:

* All of the areas affected by disturbances were amongst the 20% most deprived in the country and that parts of Oldham and Burnley rank in the most deprived 1%, according to the Indices of Deprivation 2000.[12]

* Within all of the areas the average incomes were amongst the lowest in the country.

* Many of the areas involved had low educational attainment standards within the schools.

* Local young white and ethnic minority (Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin) men were involved.

* The disorders took place within the areas inhabited by predominantly Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities.

* In many cases, trouble arose following months of racial tension and reported racial attacks, both Asian on white and white on Asians.

* Disturbances occurred between groups in areas where social divides existed on racial, generational, cultural or religious issues and where little dialogue or contact between various groups occurred.

Following the disturbances a Community Cohesion Review Team (CCRT) was established, whose aim was to identify key policy issues, good practice and innovative thinking in the field of community cohesion. The team believed that as Britain is a rich and diverse nation with various cultures, that there was an urgent need to promote community cohesion. The team also believed that community cohesion should be based upon a greater knowledge and respect of cultural issues, and that there was a need for greater contact between the various cultures. This team produced a report entitled ‘Community Cohesion’ in which the following statement is made:

“It is easy to focus on systems, processes and institutions and to forget that community cohesion fundamentally depends on people and their values. Indeed, many of the present problems seem to owe a great deal to the failure to communicate and agree a set of clear values that can govern behaviour. This failure is evident at both the national and local levels, and it has led to community breakdown in some parts of the country, due to particular circumstances or triggers”[10].

The Community Cohesion Review Team put forward, in their detailed and extensive report, themes and proposals to help ensure that reform takes place. The comprehensive themes and proposals were summarised under the following headings: [10]

* Peoples and Values

* Political and Community Leadership

* Political Organisations

* Strategic Partnerships

* Regeneration Programmes, Initiatives and Funding

* Integration and Segregation

* Younger People

* Education

* Community Organisations

* Disadvantaged and Disaffected Communities

* Policing

* Housing

* Employment

* The Press and Media

In addition to the above, the report puts forward recommendations for each of the topics and offers sixty-seven practical measures, which could be put in place by a range of agencies, and which were aimed at improving community cohesion.[10]

Furthermore, the report acknowledges that there may be resistance to change or lack of confidence in tackling such difficult issues as raised in the ‘Community Cohesion’ report. Therefore the team have reported that they believe that a new Community Cohesion Task Force should be established to oversee the development of local community cohesion strategies and the implementation of the proposals set out in their report.[10]

In conclusion, interest in the concept of community has been expressed since the mid 19th century and the continuing change in social behaviour, as a consequence of the changes to social structures and interaction, therefore necessitates continued study. Furthermore, in order to enable individuals and communities to participate fully within society, the issue of social exclusion needs to be addressed. Particularly as social exclusion has the potential to affect all types of people, in all areas of life and at all stages of life. In addition, social exclusion varies with time and individuals or communities may experience different forms of exclusion at different times and at different intensities. It is therefore essential that efforts are continued to ensure that society recognises the need for encouragement of an inclusive society.


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